NEW YORK -- The City That Never Sleeps and the NHL unveiled yet another masterful sporting event Sunday when the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers battled the elements and each other in front of 50,105 fans in the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at iconic Yankee Stadium.
With the center field scoreboard, classic white façade and No. 4 train serving as the backdrop, the Cathedral of Baseball proved the perfect setting for the on-ice showdown between the Metropolitan Division rivals in the South Bronx.
In the end, the Rangers would rally from a two-goal deficit with six unanswered en route to a 7-3 victory in their first of two games at the Stadium this week. The Rangers will play the New York Islanders on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS2).
"We simplified our game and ended up coming back," Rangers right wing Rick Nash said. "We kept it simple and kept it safe. It was exciting to get two points."
The seven goals scored by the Rangers were the most in an outdoor game. The Detroit Red Wings set the previous mark in a 6-4 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2009 NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello scored twice, Dominic Moore, Derek Stepan and Marc Staal each had a goal and an assist, and Derick Brassard and Anton Stralman had two assists apiece. Stepan's goal was scored off a penalty shot midway through the third period; it was the first successful penalty shot in an NHL outdoor game.
"It was cold, but [it] wasn't a cold that could affect you," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Walking onto the ice surface and hearing the applause from fans, as much from the Devils as the Rangers, it was a really neat experience."
Prior to warm-ups, fans watched and listened as the cast of Jersey Boys performed their classic hits made popular by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Further enhancing a New York state of mind were the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums and the NYPD Pipes and Drums; they lined the paths used by the players as they walked to the ice to a loud ovation and fireworks display.
Three-time Tony Award-nominee Marin Mazzie sung the U.S. National Anthem while members of the NYPD/FDNY Color Guard presented the game's colors.
Following an action-packed first period that had the Devils jumping to a 3-2 lead, New Jersey shore band Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes rocked the house during the first intermission.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is extremely pleased with the two outdoor games this weekend. The Anaheim Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 on Saturday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles that was witnessed by more than 54,000 fans.
"The first two games of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series -- played on two coasts, under two wild extremes of climate -- provided all the best elements our sport can offer our fans," Bettman said.
"Within 16 hours two of the most revered venues in sports welcomed more than 100,000 fans to sit under the sky and enjoy two of the fiercest rivalries in the NHL. The games were spectacular, the images were unforgettable and the sheer energy our sport creates was unmistakable. This truly was a remarkable weekend for our fans and our League."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer was forced to pull starter Martin Brodeur in favor of Cory Schneider to open the third period after Brodeur allowed six goals on 21 shots in the first 40 minutes of the game. It marked the first time New Jersey made an in-game goalie switch this season. Brodeur was playing in his 100th regular-season game against the Rangers.
"I'm sure Marty wanted to play well and this loss is not on him," Devils forward Patrik Elias said. "We gave up way too many chances and they got the bounces. Still, it shouldn't have happened because we gave up too many chances."
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who improved to 29-14-6 in 49 career regular-season games against the Devils, made 19 saves to earn his 18th win of the season.
Lundqvist now is 24-11-3 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 38 games against the Devils since 2007-08. He is 25-9-6 with a 1.78 GAA and .928 save percentage in 40 career regular-season games against Brodeur.
"It was a tough start to the game," Lundqvist said. "My preparation was not perfect. The start of the game was changed so I was asleep when they told me it was a warm-up in 30 minutes. I felt like I was not really in the right place mentally in the first period [allowing three goals on 10 shots]; I was fighting it a little bit. I felt like I calmed down in the second [and] third period and played my game."
The Devils still lead the all-time series against the Rangers 85-78-27, including a 54-34-7 record in their previous 95 home games [the Devils were considered the home team Sunday].
The Rangers pulled into a 3-3 tie early in the second when defenseman John Moore broke in 2-on-1 with Zuccarello, who skated into the pass and had the puck deflect off his left skate past Brodeur. A replay review upheld the call on the ice.
Not soon after it began to flurry to the delight of those in attendance.
The game was tied, the temperature (24.9 degrees at the opening faceoff) was dropping and snow was floating to the ice. High drama, for sure.
That's when the Rangers gained their first lead, on Zuccarello's second goal of the game at 12:44 of the second for a 4-3 edge. He broke in 2-on-1 with Brassard against Anton Volchenkov. Brassard sent a saucer pass to Zuccarello while Volchenkov was sliding to the ice to take away the pass, but Zuccarello collected the puck and swept it home.
"I've never been here [Yankee Stadium] and baseball is not that big in Norway," Zuccarello said. "But I've lived in the U.S. for quite a while now so I know it's pretty special. It's special for me too coming from Norway, and to be able to play at this rink and get the win too is pretty amazing. So we were happy about it."
The Rangers extended their lead to 5-3 when Hagelin scored his 12th of the season off a shot from the right circle at 13:53. Nash made it 6-3 with 28.5 seconds remaining in the second when he finished a 3-on-1 rush with Stepan and Chris Kreider after Anton Stralman stood up Andy Greene at the Rangers' blue line. Nash took a cross-ice feed from Stepan in the right circle and ripped a shot that deflected off Devils defenseman Mark Fayne and beat Brodeur to the long side.
"I don't think it came too easy [in the first period]," Patrik Elias said. "We played well in the first and then felt like every line gave up odd-man rushes. We starting pushing and they did a good job not giving us time in their zone. We got caught a lot. It felt like every 10 minutes, we were giving up seven to nine odd-man rushes."
Nash, who scored his 11th goal in 11 games, is riding a five-game goal streak (seven goals) and leads the Rangers with 18 goals.
Stepan added the game's final goal on a penalty shot, at 10:06 of the third. Stepan received his opportunity on Schneider after he was held by Travis Zajac while breaking toward the New Jersey net. Stepan's goal, his 10th of the season, came off a rocket into the top left corner. It was the first successful penalty shot in an outdoor NHL game.
The Devils received two goals from Elias and two assists from Jaromir Jagr in the first period to open a 3-2 lead. The two assists moved Jagr past former teammate Mario Lemieux and into sole possession of 10th place on the NHL's all-time list.
In addition to the offensive flurry, the opening 20 minutes was highlighted by plenty of good opportunities and big hits.
Hagelin delivered a crunching hit on Devils captain Bryce Salvador at 1:05 and Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was thrown into New Jersey bench when he attempted to put Zajac through the boards not long after.
Zajac's eighth goal of the season, off a backhand in the slot, gave the Devils a 3-1 lead at 16:07. Jagr made the play possible when he fed Mark Fayne at the point left point and outmuscled Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein to deflect Fayne's shot off Lundqvist's pads. The rebound went to Zajac, who scored from in close.
The Rangers pared the deficit to 3-2 when Marc Staal's innocent-looking shot from the left-wing corner deflected in front and past Brodeur at 16:59.
"I think it was a big goal," Staal said. "In that first we were scrambling and it was good for us to grab a hold of it when we did. It was good that we responded the way we did."
DeBoer was asked if he felt his team took its foot off the gas pedal after opening a 3-1 lead.
"They got a little bit of a fluky goal [by Staal]," DeBoer said. "I think what happened was we fell into the trap that this was going to be a 7-6 game and we were going to have to get seven goals to win. We're not that type of team. We start opening it up and trading chances like that and not a lot of good happens."
Elias opened the game at 5:36 when he collected a feed from Ryane Clowe at the Rangers' blue line, skated to the left hash and fired a shot that beat Lundqvist high on the short side. The Rangers evened the game when Dominic Moore scored on a rebound at the right post.
Elias made it 2-1 at the 11-minute mark when he took a great pass from Jagr, who spun as he carried the puck below the goal line in the New York end and found a trailing Elias in the slot.
Jagr now has 1,035 assists, five shy of ninth-place Marcel Dionne. He has career totals of 697 goals and 1,732 points in 20 seasons. Twenty days away from his 42 birthday, he leads the Devils with 16 goals, 28 assists and 44 points in 53 games this season.